#Unlocked16 Reflection Special – (6)

To mark the end of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, we asked a selection of activists, legal commentators, politicians, journalists and experts-by-experience – all engaged in the fight against detention in the UK and across Europe – their answers to the following question:

What gave you hope in the fight against detention in 2016, and how are you planning to use that hope in 2017?

We’ve been publishing a few of these answers each day over this final week of #Unlocked16 – here are MondayTuesday, WednesdayThursday and Friday’s offerings, in case you missed them.

To conclude this special #Unlocked Reflection Special, we hear from Ben du Preez, ‘Unlocking Detention’ Co-Coordinator (alongside Lisa Matthews of Right to Remain).

There seems little point pretending these are not extraordinary and nightmarish times. So much so, it can sometimes feel as if disillusion, cynicism and defeatism took one look at 2016 and conspired to bury hope and imagination deep (deep) down in some underground bunker. Students of political despair will no doubt reflect on the last twelve months and conclude with great certainty ‘we’re doomed.’

In many ways, indefinite detention – as practised by this government – is designed to have precisely the same affect. It projects a message of powerlessness, that taking action is futile, that you cannot win. The Home Office would have you believe the incarceration of immigrants is inevitable and immutable. ‘Better just take what’s coming to you’. Despair in detention is often a loss of belief that any struggle is worthwhile.
And yet, many (many) times over the last few months, #Unlocked16 has felt like a direct rebuke to hopelessness and despair.

There’s been an important taking-stock of this year’s milestones – an end to the indefinite detention of pregnant women; introduction of automatic judicial oversight into the detention estate for the first time; farewell tours for Haslar, Dover, Cedars, the Detained Fast Track; big community wins in Scotland; an emerging consensus for the need for alternatives across Europe. These are milestones that record how we can and do win but more importantly, act as providers of encouragement to keep going, to wake up and keep fighting tomorrow. #Unlocked16 has also seen much broader engagement in detention as a civil liberties and human rights issue beyond the usual faces – from the Royal College of Midwives to mainstream comedians, different kinds of actors are getting involved.

Meanwhile, the open-source nature of Unlocking Detention has meant a coming together within the anti-detention movement itself (not least evidenced in the wide range of authors in this Reflection Round-Up) that champions collective power over factionalism.

But it is perhaps the discovery of personal power that really stands out.

On Thursday, I read Jose’s reflection piece – written just three weeks after he was interviewed for the live #Unlocked16 Q&A in Campsfield; just two weeks after he was released – and could not help but recognise a passionate joy familiar in many experts-by-experience I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Individuals who might have lost everything because of their incarceration but who have found agency, meaning, community and immediacy in speaking out about it. Meet any of the members of the #TheseWallsMustFall campaign, the Freed Voices group, Movement for Justice and countless other expert-by-experience groups fighting detention today, and you’ll hear it, smell it, feel it. It is infectious. As is the determination, sacrifice, patience, ingenuity and laughter that usually surrounds and supports it.

In turn, some of the #Unlocked16 moments that gave me the most hope were those that made me smile – when Kasonga’s interview with his best friend, Harsha, collapsed into giggles recalling how the former had tricked the latter upon his release, telling him he was still in Harmondsworth when he was actually standing on his doorstep; almost any live Q&A response to the question ‘What would you say to Theresa May if you met her?’; and when Mo finished dictating his piece on the Verne to me by singing ‘Let My People Go’ very loudly down the phone.

These instances fill me with hope because, in the face of asylum and immigration systems that aspire to make people feel fearful, alienated, and isolated, they are actually acts of great insurrection. Just as they do not deny the realities of detention they also do not betray the fight against it either – they sustain it. They help frame hope more as a state of mind than a state of the world.

And that is what I want to take forward into 2017: the idea that hope means another world might be possible – not promised, not guaranteed, but possible. And in the words of Rebecca Solint; “it is a hope that calls for action; just as action is impossible without hope.”

#Unlocked16 Reflection Special – (5)

To mark the end of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, we asked a selection of activists, legal commentators, politicians, journalists and experts-by-experience – all engaged in the fight against detention in the UK and across Europe – their answers to the following question:

What gave you hope in the fight against detention in 2016, and how are you planning to use that hope in 2017?

We’ve been publishing a few of these answers each day over this final week of #Unlocked16 – here are MondayTuesday, Wednesday and Thursday’s offerings, in case you missed them.
And to close proceedings, we’ve got four more…

Ravi Naik – Head of Public Law at ITN Solicitors – @RaviNa1k

The Home Office’s stated policy commitment is ‘the presumption of release’. However, the reality is often very different. For example, the Home Office had been routinely imposing curfews on people released on immigration bail and had done so based on an “assumed” power. Earlier this year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the power the Home Office assumed it had in fact did not exist. Many might find it troubling that, despite the Home Office’s supposed commitment to liberty, the power to impose curfews was taken for granted. These curfews have had a devastating effect; clients of mine have been confined to their houses for 12 hours a day, preventing them from living any kind of a normal life.
This serves to illustrate what those in immigration detention know all too well; the Home Office detains first and will only release when forced to do so.
Those caught up in the immigration system face huge obstacles in challenging their detention. It can be very difficult for those most in need to find people able to speak out and help them. The work of those involved in #Unlocked16 has given me hope. They continue to highlight the injustices that occur throughout the immigration detention system. Such initiatives help to demonstrate that these are not dry legal issues but are about the experiences of real people who are too often denied a voice.
These groups and the individuals I have met through them have inspired me to work harder in 2017 for the causes we care about. We must not let those in detention become lost in the system; we must strive for the presumption of release to become a reality.
Read Ravi’s excellent piece for #Unlocked16 published earlier this tour in The Justice Gap.

Sarah Teather – Director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK)

Several things have given me genuine cause for hope going into 2017.
First, the continuing activity of members of the Parliamentary Detention Inquiry. I chaired the cross party inquiry in my previous role as an MP. My dream for it was that it would lead to ongoing action by MPs and might help form a group of committed supporters but it still inspires me every time I see one of the former members of the panel campaign on detention. Behind the noisy headlines there are lots of MPs in different parties with concerns about detention. It really is worth investing in forming relationships with people and resourcing them with real testimony.
Second, Freed Voices came and spoke at a conference JRS held this year which included JRS offices from all over Europe. Freed Voices members gave such powerful contributions. To hear how the project boosted people’s confidence and supported them to be able to draw on their story but make wider points about change was a huge inspiration to us at JRS as we seek to find ways of bringing voices of those from detention to a wider circle. It gave me hope to hear Freed Voices members speak with authority, not as passive victims but as agents of change themselves.
Third, I have taken real hope from stories our volunteers tell us about the spirit of those we work with in detention. Detention robs people of health and freedom and causes crippling anxiety. But somehow in spite of all that the human spirit goes on in defiance and the stories our volunteers tell us are both of the awful psychological burden of indefinite detention but also of people’s resilience. One of the people we were working with was released suddenly a month or so ago. When he left detention, he left the small amount of cash he had earned in there working for a pittance for our team with instructions to give it to someone else in need. The system is cruel, isolating and excluding but he went on being generous, connected and concerned for other people. You can try to dehumanise people but their humanity isn’t so easy to get rid of.

Pinar Aksu of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees 

This year we’ve seen Theresa May become the new prime minister, we’ve witnessed the toxic Leave campaign and, as if that was not enough, we have seen Donald Trump elected as President of the United States. Each of these campaigns used the same strategic message: blame immigrants for their own mistakes.
Now we are seeing the rise of racism within mainstream political agendas. Instead of talking about the root causes of poverty, politicians are blaming everything they possibly can on migrants. The language used during these campaigns has provided a platform for people to use phrases like ‘they are coming to get our benefits’, ‘we should care about the homeless of our country first’ and ‘we are full’. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, we’ve witnessed a rise of racism of in Scotland. And sadly, the immigration system has not responded by being more protective of people trying to navigate it, but instead seems actively designed to push them into hopelessness.
However, there has been good news. The Government has announced that Dungavel Removal Centre in Scotland is scheduled to be shut down! After years of campaigning with Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and the Unity Centre, the only detention in Scotland will be gone. This gives me hope. It gives me hope that when we continue campaigning without stopping, without losing our collective spirit, there will be change. It will take time, it will be tiring, but change will occur.
And if a new detention centre is suggested for Scotland (as was the case with the proposal for a new Short Ter Holding Facility in Glasgow) then we will campaign again. We will campaign until there are no detention centres across the UK. We will educate each other. We will campaign against each and any death in detention. We will campaign until we have a fair and justice asylum system where people are not being dehumanised for seeking safety. We will unite to end detention.
Read Pinar’s piece for #Unlocked16 on the fight to close Dungavel, published earlier in the tour. 

Ajay – Freed Voices

Freed Voices hit Parliament.

I was released from detention in January this year. The experience changed me and I came out of feeling disorientated, isolated and scared. I didn’t have anyone to speak to about my time in detention. Whenever I would see guards in uniform I would get flashbacks. Whenever I ate noodles – the same kind they gave us in detention – I would think about The Verne.
I joined the Freed Voices group a few months later and a lot changed for me. We all came from very different places, different ages, different periods in detention. But we had a shared understanding of the physical and emotional language of detention. As the sessions went on I think we all had a kind double realisation. On one hand, we started to really share with eachother how much detention had harmed us, and we spoke about it. This was first time many of us talked about these experiences. For some people there was a sense of shame. Other people hadn’t spoken about it just because it was so traumatic. They felt that if they did they would explode.
On the other hand, we started to see ourselves as an authority on the issue. We understood that we knew more about this than anybody else. We flipped it. We took strength from eachother. We laughed and supported eachother but we also concentrated on how best to fight the Government’s policy. This was something I had not thought about when I was in detention – the possibility that the reality I found myself in could be changed.
I was the first person in my Freed Voices group to speak out publicly. It was in Parliament. I’d never done anything like it before. I was nervous. But when I looked out at the audience I saw six members of the group – my Back-Up – and I knew I was representing something much bigger than just myself and my story.
Since then, I’ve spoken out against detention many times and have always taken hope from the reaction. First, it is shock…then it is anger…then people want to take action. Together. And this is what we need to build on in 2017: we need more spaces where experts-by-experience are able to develop the confidence to speak out about detention and we need to build links between these speakers and the regular British public. Neither groups should underestimate our power to change things. Especially when we’re working together. Unity is strength.
Read Ajay’s powerful piece for #Unlocked16 on the impact detention had on him, published earlier in the tour. 

What does detention mean to you?

Throughout Unlocking Detention, we’ve asked people via Twitter, Facebook, and at the workshops we’ve run across the UK, to draw an image in response to the question “What does detention mean to you?”  This includes images from people at risk of detention, and those who have experienced it in the past. We also received some very special contributions from people who are currently detained. We’ve had drawings from experienced campaigners and people working to support those in detention. And we’ve had images from people who knew very little about detention until we talked to them about it, and this is their raw response.

Here is a selection of the images we’ve received. There’s incredible variety, and they are all striking moments of connection between those who are in detention, those at risk of it, those still recovering from it or affected by it, and those who will never experience it but know that it’s wrong.

You can see more images from people in detention here.

#Unlocked16 Reflection Special – (4)

To mark the end of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, we asked a selection of activists, legal commentators, politicians, journalists and experts-by-experience – all engaged in the fight against detention in the UK and across Europe – their answers to the following question:

What gave you hope in the fight against detention in 2016, and how are you planning to use that hope in 2017?

We’ll be publishing a few of these answers each of the last two days of this, the final week of #Unlocked16. In case you missed them, these were MondayTuesday and Wednesday’s offerings.
And today we’ve got four more…

Jose, previously detained in Campsfield House

One of the many questions crowd-sourced for Jose’s Q&A.

I was released from detention two weeks ago, three weeks after I did the live Q&A with #Unlocked16. I won the first battle. Now it is time for the war.
My three months in Campsfield were hell, they changed my life forever, but there were many things that gave me hope. Firstly, the fact there was a legal framework was very important for me. That gave me the confidence to fight, to find a way out. The Home Office try so many tactics to hide this path – sometimes with the carrot, sometimes the stick.  But the fact there are rights to access is vital to remember.
Secondly, the support I received gave me great hope. Some nights you just want to quit. You need those voices – ‘you can’, ‘you will’, ‘we are with you’ – to survive. I got these from my friends, my family, my partner, but also from campaigners outside. Like I said in the Q&A, it takes a lot for someone with freedom to fight for those without it. After the Close Campsfield demonstration outside the centre a few months ago, you could see the changes in the guys inside. Detention can be a very macho place, very tough, lots of psychological bullying between the men. But when the campaigners were shouting ‘freedom!’, and we were shouting ‘freedom!’ back…in this moment, we were all equal inside, all demanding our rights together. I think to beat detention you need to organise – both the emotions in your head but also in such actions of solidarity.
Thirdly, doing the Q&A was also very big for me. I felt much better after it, much stronger in myself. The idea that people were hearing me, responding to me in the comments, this gave me hope. I showed it to some of the other guys inside and they were excited and proud and said things like, “you should have said more about healthcare!’, ‘yeah, you are right, they can’t do this to us!’ My instinct after I the Q&A was, ‘I want to do more’.
And so I will fight in 2017.
It has not been easy since I was released. I realised I have started to lock the door of my room at night before I go to sleep. I guess am scared they will take me again. One of my friends said to me, ‘you must block out this experience, you must forget detention’. But this is not the way. I made friends in detention. I want to speak out for the guy I shared a cell with last month; for the guy deported last week; for the un-detained. I cannot let them down. I cannot let myself down.
We need to address the miseducation. There is still a stigma about detention, even with some of my community. Even they – people I love, people that love me – even they, don’t quite understand detention. They still think that maybe I did something wrong.
We need to address the contradictions at the heart of the immigration system: 60% of the oil in the buses in London is coming from my country and they want to deport me; most of the people in detention are escaping from countries where Western countries have destroyed the way of life there.
We need to address the attempts to separate people. This government wants to make me feel unwelcome. But I know my rights now. And this is my home.

Jem Stevens – Europe Regional Coordinator at the International Detention Coalition (IDC)

Looking back at 2016, I can’t help but feel apprehensive about the future in terms of detention in Europe. This year we’ve continued to see the emergence of a regional approach to migration governance which focuses on containment, enforcement and return, and means more detention. The EU Commission had made proposals for legal reform that would, if adopted, codify this approach in a (probably largely ineffective and in some ways counterproductive) bid to limit migration into, and secondary movement within, the EU.

But, as we reach the end of the year, I am optimistic.
I’m optimistic because I believe there are alternatives; there are other approaches to governing migration that don’t rely on enforcement and detention, and work better for both states and migrants.
The IDC’s programme of research over the past five years provides clear evidence that programmes that build trust with and support migrants in the community achieve high rates compliance and case resolution, better ensure the rights and wellbeing of migrants, and are far cheaper than detention. These often use screening and assessment and case management to ensure migrants are informed, can meet basic needs and explore all possible options in terms of their immigration case.
In Europe, discussions on alternatives to detention have tended to narrowly focus on typologies of restrictions and conditions placed on individuals to ensure compliance. Practice has mainly been of these (lesser) control mechanisms running in parallel to detention within enforcement-based systems of migration governance.
But the alternatives that we are interested in are those that show a different way of doing things: moving away from enforcement to engaging with migrants and challenging assumptions about the need to detain at all.
These aren’t simple solutions. Effective alternatives to detention need to be designed to fit each unique context and address their specific challenges. But it’s worth noting that alternatives have been shown to work in the most “challenging” migration contexts and with the most complex cases.
As we move into 2017, I’m doubly optimistic because I can see some seeds of change being sown. The big gap and challenge in Europe has been to move from theory to practice. But this year we’ve seen growing interest within our network in developing and implementing the kind of alternatives that the IDC’s research shows work.
Civil society are well-placed to run such pilot projects, because of the trust they can build with migrants which is essential for success. Drawing on experiences from other regions, pilot projects can show governments that their policy goals can be better achieved without detention, leading to policy change as they are rolled out as main stream responses.
Next year, the IDC will focus on fostering a network of groups implementing alternative to detention pilot projects in Europe. The aim, as set out in IDC member Detention Action’s report Without Detention, is to build momentum and evidence that this engagement-based approach works.
Our goal is that as evidence grows, more governments will choose to support people towards case resolution in the community instead of using detention, and ultimately detention will become truly the exception and engagement the norm.

Ian Dunt – Editor of Politics.co.uk – @IanDunt

Community solidarity with the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK), after it was attacked following the Brexit vote.

On the face of it, 2017 has been a terrible years for anyone who cares about the rights of immigrants or asylum seekers. The Brexit referendum descended into an ugly exercise in nativism and reactionary rabble-rousing. The debate since then has, if anything, become more toxic. By the end of the summer, tabloids and Tory MPs were demanding authorities check the teeth of child refugees being allowed into Britain.
You have to be an extremely optimistic observer to think we’ve seen anything positive for the debate over detention.
But actually, the Brexit referendum might just provide a flicker of light. Since the vote we have seen a sudden shift in the terms of political debate in this country. People are increasingly thinking of themselves in terms of open versus closed, of diversity versus monoculture, of liberalism versus authoritarianism.
While it may on the face of it have little to do with detention centres, that change might be very useful to critics of the detention system. People are starting to self-identify in terms of their openness to immigrants and asylum seekers. Many people who had previously assumed their values were shared by most of the public are starting to properly explore them, to say them out loud, to think of themselves politically as someone defined by those convictions.
This will make them more open to hearing about the detention estate. Since it was created, the main obstacle to getting people to challenge the system was simply convincing them to read stories about it. It was barely understood. Most people would initially refuse to accept that it existed. Surely Britain didn’t lock up people who had committed no crime, without trial or warning, without a time limit on their detention, on what were ultimately de-facto prison camps?
Well Britain does do that. It is a betrayal of nearly every value this country claims to hold, from due process to individual freedom. As the debate in this country shifts, more people will be willing to listen to stories about the detention estate and the reality of what the British government does away from prying eyes.
For the time being things seem bleak in Britain. But this new focus of debate will bring more scrutiny onto detention centres. They will not be able to withstand it.

Tom Nunn – Legal Manager on Right to Liberty Project, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BiD)

Demonstration against cuts to legal aid

As obvious as it sounds, hearing that people have been released from detention is what gave me hope in the fight against detention in 2016.
Here at BiD, we have two types of cases – ‘represented’ cases and ‘DIY’ cases.
For certain people (those with children, those detained for over six months, those who need our assistance the most for whatever reason), we provide full representation. We prepare their bail applications fully, put together their bundles and have pro-bono barristers who go to court to represent them.
In recent months, we have significantly increased the number of represented bail applications we’ve been doing. And since 1st August, we have a success rate which is hovering around the 70% mark, which is great. This shows the impact of effective legal assistance for clients and emphasises how successful properly prepared applications can be. Many lawyers suggest that the bail process is random but it gives me hope that we can have this level of success when the work is put in.
However, perhaps the thing that gives me most hope is the success that our clients have with our other type of case – the `DIY’ cases. Depressingly, according to our recent Legal Advice Survey, just under half (47%) of people in detention currently do not have a legal representative and 1 in 5 have never had one. More hopefully, however, since 1st August 2016, 94 people have been successful in getting themselves out of detention and back in the community with the support of our DIY project.
The way that the law works in this country appears often to be intended purely to baffle lay clients and to take away the hope of being able to help yourself. This leads to a situation in which certain unscrupulous lawyers and the Home Office are able to confuse the detainee enough that all hope of being able to get bail without spending thousands of pounds on legal advice and having sureties offering thousands of pounds, disappears.
We run regular workshops in all the detention centres in England. With the right assistance, people are able to apply for bail themselves. We explain the process and talk to them about the arguments that they may be able to use to persuade the judges. Hearing from people who have taken on this system and against all odds, been released having argued their case themselves, gives me lots of hope.
In 2017, we hope to increase our represented cases further but we also want to continue to empower people to challenge their detention themselves. We would argue that it is essential that everyone in detention be represented to challenge the deprivation of their liberty. But being able to help those in detention to get out of detention themselves is also hugely important.

#Unlocked16 Reflection Special – (3)

To mark the end of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, we asked a selection of activists, legal commentators, politicians, journalists and experts-by-experience – all engaged in the fight against detention in the UK and across Europe – their answers to the following question:

What gave you hope in the fight against detention in 2016, and how are you planning to use that hope in 2017?

We’ll be publishing a few of these answers each of the next three days of the final week of #Unlocked16. In case you missed them, these were Monday’s and Tuesday’s offerings.
And today we’ve got three more…

Protesters at Yarl’s Wood demonstration, December 2016.

Eleanor Penny – Editor at Novara Media – @eleanorkpenny

Our voices were already hoarse from whooping, screaming – our legs already sore from kicking at the high metal gates that surround Yarl’s Wood detention centre. But for a while, we had no need of them. The drumming and the whooping fell silent as the PA system carried the voices of incarcerated women out beyond the walls. From the higher ground, you could see over the gates to where the women were waving pieces of clothing – pink, white – at the assembled crowd. They told their stories: Mabel – a key organiser inside – had been there for two years, isolated from her seven-year-old child. They talked about the conditions; that they were paid £1/hour to clean their own cells, that they are not allowed even the small amount of freedom that regular prisoners get; that tuberculosis is spreading through the centre; that the guards had tried to prevent women reaching the third-floor windows from where they could hear the demonstrators. The scratchy sound system, trundled across four muddy fields, struggled to catch all of their words. But many were shouting so loudly, and the gathered crowd had fallen so silent, that we could hear them anyway.

This was the tenth ‘Shut Down Yarl’s Wood’ demonstration, organised by activist organisation ‘Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary’. It started a year ago with thirty people; a motley crew of London-based activists piled onto a bus. On this cold snap Saturday, around two thousand people turned up – from as far afield as Sheffield and Liverpool. That fact alone is a tonic to pretty painful year. When the right wing is in the ascendancy, it’s truly heartening to see first hand that thousands of people will – literally – start prying open the security gates and kicking down the doors of racist border policing. But the most powerful moment was not when we were exorcising our rage at a year that left us all a little poorer and more terrified. It was when we stood silent, and heard the women themselves testify to their experiences. Not when we were charging around the grounds chanting – but when we shared the chant with the inmates; we shouted ‘Yarl’s Wood’, and they responded with ‘shut it down, shut it down!’. These women are so easily and so frequently talked about; the fodder of tragedy, something to shake your head at sadly as you go about your life of relative liberty. But when allowed to speak, when listened to – these voices defy a bien-pedant liberal impulse to categorise them as charity cases. They display all the fury, determination and careful organising it will take to bring down Yarl’s Wood. They know better than anyone what it might take to dismantle a violent, racist system of incarceration. And we would be beyond foolish not to listen. People in the media – myself included – have the unique opportunity to make that happen. To raise up those voices. Not to talk so much – but to witness. To know when to be silent. To find higher ground.

Moria detention camp, Greece.

Daniel Trilling – Writer on migration and Editor of the The New Humanist – @trillingual

I’ve spent much of the last few years reporting on conditions for asylum seekers in different parts of Europe. And while there isn’t much cause for optimism at the moment – the EU seems determined to restore the restrictive and violent border policies that broke down during the refugee crisis of 2015 – one thing it’s taught me is how much of a difference alternatives to detention can make. For example compare Greece and Italy, two countries that have been at the forefront of the recent crisis. In the former, mass immigration detention has been used for a number of years: the current governing party, Syriza, had pledged to abolish it, but has ended up running closed camps that are detention in all but name. I know from my own visits to detention facilities and interviews with people who’ve been through them that migrants are not only prone to mistreatment and abuse of process, but that they feel they’ve been made invisible. That’s the way detention is supposed to work: hiding migrants, and their treatment, from public view.
In Italy, although detention facilities and closed camps exist, the norm is to accommodate new arrivals and asylum seekers in open centres. Most of these are far from ideal: they’re often far from city centres, which is another form of segregation, many are poorly maintained and do not offer full access to basic needs like healthcare or legal advice; but they at least allow people some freedom to move about – and, if they want to risk it, to leave and travel elsewhere in Europe.
When a centre is run well, such as one I’ve visited in Scicli, a town in south-western Sicily, the hosts provide rehabilitation for people who’ve suffered trauma on their journeys to Europe and run programmes that encourage migrants and locals to socialise together. It’s very much a hopeful example of what can be achieved, rather than a description of the situation as it currently exists, but the more that detention is pushed back, the more it becomes possible. Greater autonomy gives migrants more opportunity to organise politically and assert their rights, which I think is the best hope of changing the system – and exactly why states are often keen to avoid it.

The Verne IRC, situated on the Isle of Portland.

Pat Pinkowska – Volunteer at the Verne Visitors Group – @PEPinkowska

2016 was a difficult year for migrants and for all of us who care about people on the move. Watching tragedies on the Mediterranean Sea and the moments of happiness of those who made it to the safety of European shores, I couldn’t stop thinking about the lives of many migrants who, after similarly onerous journeys, finally made it to the UK only to end up locked up for weeks, months or years in the immigration detention.
Safety, respect and justice are what people traveling to the UK are hoping to find, yet are often denied upon arrival, simply because they are seen as the Other. What is striking when visiting and listening to people in detention is how far and wide this Othering is being actively pushed. People who live among us, study with us, work with us, our friends and neighbors, people who have raised their families here – all can suddenly be reduced to the category of ‘detainee’, affixed a number, and locked up indefinitely.
The feeling of despair comes with the fear that the majority of population just accepts the status quo and the rhetoric that relentlessly tries to persuade that being tough on migration is a solution to Britain social problems and that detention is a necessary part of this.
We know this to be untrue and yet, conversely, what gives me hope is that many people still don’t know what detention really is. Undoubtedly, information is available for those who are willing to look for it, and projects like Unlocking Detention have gone a long way to educate people about the detention estate. But not everyone is looking and sometimes a particular story needs to find its way to a particular person in order to make a difference, to spur action. At the Verne Visitors Group, it has been notable how this story by Giles Fraser affected so many local residents. People contacted the group to get involved, to help, but also to understand. Many, upon realizing that the practice of detaining migrants is widespread if hidden and is happening on their doorsteps, are not only outraged but are willing to put their energy into talking about it to their friends and families, community or church groups, to their MPs. They continue to be my source of hope.
It is those who don’t see the Other but another human being in need of support and companionship, that break the neatly formed dividing categories across which we are being told no solidarities should form. And yet they continuously do.
Detaining people without judicial oversight and without time limit is a practice that goes against all that we value and cherish and it should stop. Going into 2017, we need to continue conversations with friends, neighbors and strangers as individuals and as part of a wider movement. We need to share stories that may provide this necessary spark for someone else to get involved, who then will be willing to pass it on, to act, to vote…to bring about change.

#Unlocked16 Reflection Special – (2)

To mark the end of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, we asked a selection of activists, legal commentators, politicians, journalists and experts-by-experience – all engaged in the fight against detention in the UK and across Europe – their answers to the following question:

What gave you hope in the fight against detention in 2016, and how will you use that hope in 2017?

We’ll be publishing a few of these answers each of the next four days of the final week of #Unlocked16. In case you missed them, these were Monday’s offerings, courtesy of Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, Luke de Noronha, Alessandra Capodanno of Migreurop, and Faith of WAST and #TheseWallsMustFall.
Today, we’ve got four more…

Stephen Shaw, author of the Home Office-commissioned Shaw Review.

Colin Yeo – Editor of Free Movement immigration and asylum law blog

It has been a very mixed year for those interested in immigration detention. On the one hand we have seen closures announced for two detention centres and a cancelled expansion for another. The Shaw Review into the welfare of those subjected to immigration detention was very positive and Government at least made noises about detaining less people and treating those detained better. New, largely improved policies have been introduced and the bare statistics on those subjected to immigration detention have also gone down by 9%, to 29,762 in the year ended June 2016.
There was also some very positive news from the courts. The Detained Fast Track which has caused so much injustice has not been replaced and the unlawful imposition of curfews by the Home Office was exposed. It felt as if the “detention first” instincts of Home Office bureaucrats were perhaps being tempered by considerations of humanity and sheer cost.
On the other hand, there were 96 children detained over the same period, those who are subjected to immigration detention seem to be detained for ever longer periods (with 240 detained for over 12 months), a huge 46% of those detained were released into the community (suggesting the wrong people are being detained, given that immigration detention is supposed to be for the purpose of removal) and we saw the passage of the Immigration Act 2016. This legislation includes powers which dramatically increase the potential for immigration detention, although the powers have not yet been brought into full effect.
There remains a huge amount of work to be done but 2016 has been encouraging; victories have been won, there has been little in the way of backsliding and we can and will do more.

Gemma Lousley – Policy & Research Co-ordinator at Women for Refugee Women

Earlier this year, during the late stages of the Immigration Bill, the House of Lords voted resoundingly in favour of a ban on the detention of pregnant women. Women for Refugee Woman had been pressing for this reform since the start of our campaign against the detention of women who seek asylum in January 2014. The detention of pregnant women is a particularly egregious abuse of women’s rights; most pregnant women who are detained are not removed from the UK, and the stress of detention and poor healthcare pose real threats to their health and wellbeing.
Although later overturned in the Commons, the vote forced the government to propose stronger safeguards in this area, and in early July a 72-hour time limit on the detention of pregnant women was introduced.
This new policy is a good step forward. But it also flags up how much still needs to be done. When the government announced their intention to ‘end the routine detention of pregnant women’, we and others pressed them to implement something similar to the Family Returns Process (FRP), which has dramatically reduced the number of children detained every year. The government, however, refused to introduce key elements of the FRP – engagement in the community to resolve the case, and the oversight of an independent panel – alongside the time limit.
It has also been difficult to find out how the new policy is operating in practice. The Home Office has refused to publish statistics on the detention of pregnant women, even though it is collecting them. It has also made accessing these figures through Freedom of Information requests far from straightforward, to say the least. In response to our latest request, for instance, the Home Office has said it needs more time, because releasing the information we have asked for may be counter to the ‘maintenance of security and good order in prisons and other detention facilities’.
But the time limit should still give us hope. It means that it is no longer possible to lock up women who are pregnant for weeks or months at a time, as was happening previously. And, while it affects a small proportion of those detained every year, it points to something bigger, too: it shows that – even given the growing hostility to migration in the UK – change is possible.
The introduction of the time limit also demonstrates the power of working collectively. Women for Refugee Women, Medical Justice, the Royal College of Midwives, Bhatt Murphy solicitors, ILPA and others all worked on this issue, building momentum in different ways and eventually forcing change.
Most importantly, it shows that those who have been detained must be at the forefront of the movement for reform. During a parliamentary meeting just before the House of Lords vote, three women who had been held in Yarl’s Wood while pregnant spoke to a packed room, including many MPs and peers, about their experiences. Their stories dismantled the government’s justifications for their detention, and exposed instead the harm and futility of locking them up. By speaking out they got people to think differently, and effected change.
In 2017, we will be pushing the government to build on reforms such as the time limit and the Family Returns Process and work towards a bigger, more ambitious vision. It is time to move away from the use of detention altogether, and towards a system in which people are supported to resolve their cases while living in the community.

Refugee Accommodation and Solidarity Space, City Plaza Hotel, Athens.

Yiannis Baboulias – Journalist, based in Athens.

My reporting has taken me to many of the camps around Greece these past couple of years. It has not been a pleasant experience. While there have been piecemeal efforts to improve the lives of migrants detained in the country, overall the image is bleak. Threats against them are multiplying, with even vulnerable groups like unaccompanied minors under threat of deportation. But what I have found to be bright spots in the darkness are the number of self-organised initiatives across the country, like the City Plaza Hotel in Athens, that give power back to those who have lost it. It’s through such self-organised structures that we can perhaps help rebuild these peoples lives.
They don’t always work, they are often far from perfect, but from what I’ve seen, in comparison to the official sector just implementing, if we don’t seek to empower migrants and work alongside them, we are just providing temporary relief at best. Frustration grows daily, and conditions are getting worse in many cases. If anger spills over, it’s very easy for detention to become the de facto way of ‘containing’ the migrant crisis. We must stop that, especially since the alternatives are there, and because they can be beautiful.

Protester at Yarl’s Wood demonstration, 3rd December 2016.

Anna Pichi – Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary

We were 2000 people on the 3rd of December shaking the walls of Yarl’s Wood detention centre and shouting “Detention centres, Shut them down”. The demonstration was a huge success that saw women detained inside joining with former detainees, asylum seekers, immigrants and students outside in a joint cry for freedom. The Surround Yarl’s Wood demonstrations make it clear that our communities are prepared to take a side against the racist scapegoating of immigrants, reject the divisions and the hostile environment created by government policies, and join the movement to shut down the detention system once and for all.
For us, this has been a tremendous year in terms of what we have achieved through relentless organising in communities nationwide, at reporting centres, outside embassies, on campuses, on marches, as well as intervening in debates. We are energised by the prospect of how much more we can win. Most of the victories have already been noted elsewhere in Unlocked16; the closing of Haslar, Dover and Dungavel, the ending of Fast Track, numbers in detention falling, expansion of Campsfield stopped, the findings of the Parliamentary Inquiry and Shaw Report. For MFJ, we know the victories will keep coming as long as we continue with the most important task of all; building a mass, integrated, militant, anti racist and immigrant rights movement, unafraid to speak the plain truth about racism and led by migrants and all those who live under the shadow of the racist immigration system.
Our movement has exposed the racist system of immigration and the way it is used by the rich and powerful to divide us so they can still push through austerity measures that hit the majority of us. We have brought the successes of collective organising inside detention centre, the fight to stop deportations, to stand up to guards against racist and sexist abuses, and the victory of many being released and cases won.
Going into 2017, MFJ has succeeded in one of our key goals this year – expanding our movement into the colleges and universities, mobilising younger activists ready for the fight ahead of us. With Brexit, Trump’s election and the growing fascist and far-right movement in Europe we are at a historic turning point and we must respond accordingly. It is our responsibility to build an independent, integrated mass movement of and led by black, Asian, Latin American, immigrant and anti-racist white youth who understand that the fight against racism is central to our future, and who will fight by any means necessary to win. In a time when anti immigrant sentiment and racism is on the rise we cannot have business as usual, our movement must be bolder and more ambitious for what we want our society to be.
Our challenge for the New Year is to shut down the racist and fascist Brexit movement and reverse the tide of anti immigrant attacks. We began that process by picketing the Supreme Court for 4 days, standing up for immigrant rights and against the racism of Brexit. In January, we will be doing two weeks of action against the mass deportation charter flights that see so many in our communities kidnapped and brutally deported like cattle. MFJ is growing, our movement is growing and we will continue to fight to win!

#Unlocked16 Reflection Special – (1)

To mark the end of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, we asked a selection of activists, legal commentators, politicians, journalists and experts-by-experience – all engaged in the fight against detention in the UK and across Europe – their answers to the following question:

What gave you hope in the fight against detention in 2016, and how are you planning to use that hope in 2017?

We’ll be publishing a few of these answers each of the next five days of the final week of #Unlocked16. Here are Monday’s offerings…

Author and participant in his research on deportation in Kingston, Jamaica.

Luke de Noronha – Researcher – @LukeEdeNoronha

It’s been a tough year, and it’s easy to feel deflated. It feels like the forces of racism, intolerance and resentment are defining this moment of crisis. In this context, human movement is increasingly policed; borders are constructed and fortified; and human lives are immiserated and cut short. It feels like the case for immigration controls, and thus for detention, has been bolstered in mainstream Britain.
But thinking about ‘mainstream Britain’ might obscure more than it reveals. The truth is, most people don’t know much about detention, even if in theory they support it.
I have been most encouraged by conversations I have had with friends and family members of people who have been detained and deported. It seems odd to suggest that I have found hope from those who have lost the most to immigration control, but I have. The partners and friends of those who have been detained, and eventually deported, know that citizenship status does not map neatly onto belonging. They have transgressed the border in intimate ways, and because of that, they see the violence in borders, in an immediate way. They know that locking up someone because of their lack of a passport is cruel. They do not speak of ‘integration’ or ‘community cohesion’, they speak in vernacular ways of recognition, negotiation and love.
Detention and deportation are symbolic attempts to carve out the nation through the exclusion of its others. But they aren’t really working. People move around, and they settle, and they make friends, and lives, and homes – and borders can’t catch up. There might well be five people in favour of tighter immigration controls, to every one who isn’t, but the resentment of the many is amorphous and general, where the recognition of the few is deeper and more tangible. There is more force in the love than in the resentment.
I find hope in the ways borders are transgressed by ordinary people, who always think above and beneath the nation-state. Detention sits on unstable ground, and if you listen to the stories of love and loss of those punished by it, you can hear the ground rumbling. My hope is nestled in those reverberations.
Read Luke’s excellent piece for #Unlocked16 published earlier this tour in Novara Media.

Migeurop’s ‘Map of the Camps, 2016’

Alessandra Capodanno, Co-coordinator at Euro-African network, Migreurop

This has been an undeniably difficult year for campaigners for migrant justice. But working across Europe and North Africa we seen the development of many migrant-led groups standing up and demanding their rights. Only last month, Migeurop organised an international conference where we heard from members of Gadem, Gisti, Alecma, AMDH Morocco, Sakia El Hamra, AMDH Mauritania, Arci, and Freed Voices. All passionately denounced immigration detention in their respective countries and exchanged experiences and learning based on their struggles against immigration camps. The very fact that this conference – entitled ‘Encampment, detention and sorting: scenes of desolation and mobilisations at the EU borders’ – was a public event and took place in Rabat, in Morocco, is worth noting. This in of itself is something that would have been inconceivable a few years ago. Today, it stands as evidence of the growing international network of activists coming together to fight detention on a global scale.
And so, going into next year, we will focus our efforts on building and strengthening these partnerships – at Europe’s Eastern and Southern borders but also across Northern Europe, and in the UK in particular. This solidarity is vital if we are to shine a light on immigration detention, effectively denounce the human rights violations that define it, and move forward in our common combat against camps and, more generally, the arsenal that is being deployed to keep at distance, push-back, sort and deport exiles in the EU and beyond.

Faith* from WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together) and #TheseWallsMustFall Manchester campaign 

What gives me hope more than anything is that now, at last, we are starting to see people stand in solidarity with us when it counts. That is so powerful, and it’s changed my life. I’ve had bad experiences with groups who say they’re there to welcome you but won’t stand beside you in court or even believe some of the things that happen to us in this system. I was made destitute in 2010 and was left totally alone. I was voiceless.
Then someone told me about a support group, Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST). That was the beginning. I’ve changed a lot through my experiences, they’ve made me the woman I am today. And so have the mutual support groups Right to Remain has helped us build. I used to be so quiet, so afraid. Now I am surrounded and supported by other people who’ve been through the same things as me, who understand. I know if something bad happens, they’ll be there to fight for me. And being there for them makes me feel strong. It gives me the courage to find my voice.
We need to build alliances, communities – reach out and connect. Now at last more groups seem to realise this. The scale of this crisis – the sheer numbers of us destitute, in detention, living in fear – is helping people understand that we need to come together to confront it. In Manchester, groups like WAST, City of Sanctuary, United for Change and Manchester Misol, we’re all realising that we just can’t do it alone.
The organisation that’s given us hope above all others is Right to Remain, because they’re serious about bringing everyone together and that’s really strengthened our community here in Manchester. It’s their combination of practical support and campaigning for change that makes it possible. The education we get through their workshops, to share with others, teaches us about the possibility of our own power: to speak for ourselves, to protect each other, to find the courage to campaign for change because we know, our people have our back.
*Faith is not the author’s real name.

Caroline Lucas – Co-Leader of the Green Party 

I am fighting against detention because I believe that locking people up simply for being born in another country is wrong and unnecessary. Indeed the evidence on alternatives to detention is formidable. Studies from a number of countries across the world show that non-detention alternatives are both possible and successful.
In Canada, for example, people are released to live in the community with the help of a government funded NGO that provides a range of services which help navigate Canada’s asylum system. The scheme, which saves the government over £100 a day, has a very low rate of absconders and allows people to live freely while their case is resolved.
Going into 2017, we will continue to work with campaigners at Yarl’s Wood and elsewhere to highlight the injustice of the detention system, and to campaign for alternatives.

Week 9: #Unlocked16 visits Dungavel

This was the final week that Unlocking Detention 2016 visited a specific detention centre, ahead of the round-up final week next week.  And the final visit went to Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre, and the subject of lots of news and campaign activity recently.

As part of #Unlocked16’s virtual visit, the fabulous Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV), who visit and support people held in Dungavel, and also after release, tweeted extracts from their visitor reports:

The first blog post of the week was also from the volunteer visitors of SDV and was one of my (Lisa from Right to Remain) favourite pieces as it managed to be moving, enlightening and heartfelt as well as laugh out loud funny at times.  Visitors were asked to complete the sentence “I’ll never forget”:

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a young Afghani man. He was telling me that he had gone to school one day and when he came home his house and all his family had been destroyed by a bomb. Then he told me that being in Dungavel made him feel worse than anything he had felt before.
I’ll never forget the horror I felt 25 minutes into my first car journey to Dungavel when I realised I’d forgotten my photographic ID. I’ll also never forget the look on the guard’s face when I presented my Partick Thistle season ticket to him as “ID”. Suffice to say, it didn’t work, and a wait of an hour and a half in the car park followed.
I’ll never forget all the people who have thanked me for my visits and for my motherly care (I am somewhat older than the young people we usually see). Some people do eventually get out of detention. I love the way we can keep in touch these days. I now have new friends in London, Glasgow, Inverness and Pakistan and sometimes get phone calls from various African countries It’s such a pleasure to be able to visit those people who live near by and to see photos of other friends’ growing families on Facebook.

Read I’ll never forget here

Kate Alexander, the director of SDV, authored our second Unlocked blog post this week, tackling the vital subject of the future of detention in Scotland, since the announcement of the closure of Dungavel but subsequent rejection of planning permission for a new short-term holding centre at Glasgow airport, billed as its replacement.  

It’s been a funny few months. Just a month before the beginning of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour of detention in the UK, the Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill, announced that Dungavel, the only detention centre in Scotland would close ‘towards the end of 2017’. You might think that this would be a cause of unalloyed celebration but from the announcement it was clear that there was no intention to end the detention of people in Scotland (or anywhere else in the UK). At the same time, the minister announced the intention to build a new short term holding facility at Glasgow airport. And of course, there would still be eight other detention centres in England where people living in communities in Scotland could be taken to be detained.
And then the message changed a little. In October, the Minister said that the closure of Dungavel was dependent on planning permission for the new centre being granted. Maybe he knew something the rest of us didn’t know because a week after he said that, in a surprise decision, Renfrewshire Council rejected the planning application for the new centre.
The Government has a right to appeal that decision and immediately after it was made they said they were considering their position. And then there was silence. But on 24 November, in response to parliamentary questions from Gavin Newlands (the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North), Robert Goodwill repeated that the government were considering their position about an appeal but also that ‘the intended closure of Dungavel immigration removal centre is dependent upon a successful planning application for a new short term holding facility.’ So it sounds like they will consider somewhere else if they can’t build the centre they planned at Glasgow airport.
A short term holding facility, wherever it is located, would bring with it the prospect of people being routinely moved to England after being detained for a few days in Scotland. Clearly that will mean that people’s legal representation will be disrupted. This is of particular concern because of the different legal systems in Scotland and England. It will also mean disruption to people’s family, social and community support – all vital lifelines to people in detention.

Read Unlocking the future of detention in Scotland

Next up on the blog was a piece by campaigner and expert-by-experience, Pinar Aksu, on the need to keep on fighting to end detention in Scotland:

I’m experiencing mixed feelings. As much as I am very happy that it’s been announced that the only detention centre in Scotland will be shut, I also have worries about what it would be replaced with and what it will mean for refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland.
When my family was detained in 2007, twice in Dungavel for 4 days and once in Yarl’s Wood for 2 months, I never knew what detention was.  As I got older, it was then when I noticed the injustice my family and many others went through. Locking people in prison-like detention centres while seeking asylum for safety and future is horrible. Knowing that Dungavel will be gone will erase the memories of my and many families who were detained there.

Read Pinar’s blog post here
The final Unlocking Detention live Q and A with someone currently in detention was with Gil, detained in Dungavel for nearly a year, and it was a heart-breaking one.  Thank you so much to Gil for speaking to us and sharing his views and experiences, and to Ben du Preez of Detention Action, for conducting the interview from the public’s questions, supporting Gil to do the interview AND live tweeting as well – not at all an easy task.  And thanks to SDV too, for putting us in touch with Gil. 
Experience the Q and A here

Live Q&A with Gil, detained in Dungavel

This week Unlocking Detention has been ‘visiting’ Dungavel detention centre, the only detention in Scotland and a site of much contention after the government announced plans earlier this year to close it and open a Short-Term Holding Facility in Glasgow – you can read Scottish Detainee Visitors‘ analysis of the situation as it stands, here. On Friday afternoon, Ben from Detention Action conducted a live Twitter Q&A with Gil, currently detained in Dungavel. Here’s the recap:


The closure of Dungavel? The fight must continue

By Pinar Aksu.  Pinar works with Migrant Voice as a Community Development worker in Glasgow and with Active Inquiry using Theatre of the Oppressed methods and is also a member of Right to Remain’s management committee.  She has been involved with asylum and refugee rights since a young age.

I’m experiencing mixed feelings. As much as I am very happy that it’s been announced that the only detention centre in Scotland will be shut, I also have worries about what it would be replaced with and what it will mean for refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland.

When my family was detained in 2007, twice in Dungavel for 4 days and once in Yarl’s Wood for 2 months, I never knew what detention was.  As I got older, it was then when I noticed the injustice my family and many others went through. Locking people in prison-like detention centres while seeking asylum for safety and future is horrible. Knowing that Dungavel will be gone will erase the memories of my and many families who were detained there.

When I first read the news headline, ‘Dungavel immigration detention centre to close’, I was extremely happy. I knew that finally, after years of campaigning for the rights and freedom of detainees, we have finally achieved a major victory. I knew that this terrible place where innocent people have been being detained will be gone. Even though this will never bring back the time lost when  people were being detained, for days, weeks, months and years, it would bring an end to the pain in the future. People will be free!

However, as I continued reading the article, I found that not everything is as positive as it sounds at first. The government had plans for a ‘short-term facility’ near Glasgow Airport.   UK Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill says, ‘The new short-term holding facility would provide easy access to London airports, from where most removals take place, meaning those with no right to be in the UK can be removed with less delay’.

People could be removed quicker with the new short-term facility; either to detention centres in England or back to their country of origin. By making this move, the Home Office thinks they can stop us, in Scotland, from campaigning. Wrong! We will campaign more than ever before because we cannot watch money being spent on building walls in Calais or watch the implementation of the Immigration Act 2016 and the scrapping of the Human Rights Act. Now more than ever, we will not and we cannot stop campaigning. We will stand together, organise apply pressure until every detention centre is closed.

No human is illegal. End detention now.